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I'm a pediatrician by training with an undergrad degree in journalism. I spend my days teaching and mentoring future pediatricians. My wife and I spend our evenings and weekends keeping up with very active twins. This blog will chronicle my thoughts on current children's health care issues and trends, trials and tribulations as a parent and husband mixed in with a lot of life experience.


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About Our Author

photo William Stratbucker, MD
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Think twice about getting an exotic pet
by William Stratbucker, MD at 03:21 PM

Guest blogger Karen Dahl, MD, is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

Boy with pet kitten

Pet ownership can be a wonderful experience for families. I have enjoyed having dogs, cats and rabbits as pets myself.

However, I am not an advocate of families owning exotic pets, such as certain rodents, reptiles and monkeys because they put children and families at serious risk-not only can exposure to these animals cause injury and infection, they can carry serious exotic diseases that your physician may not be familiar with and therefore are difficult to diagnose and treat.

Children under the age of five are at an even greater risk than other age groups because they still have immature immune systems and are more likely to put their hands in their mouth, increasing the risk of acquiring an infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that infants and children under five years old avoid contact with the following animals:

  • Reptiles (lizards, snakes and turtles)
  • Amphibians (frogs, toads, newts and salamanders)
  • Baby chicks
  • Ducklings

Additionally, children under five should be extra cautious when visiting farms and having direct contact with farm animals, including animals at petting zoos and fairs.

Here are just some examples of diseases you or your child can contract that are transmitted by exotic pets:

  • Salmonella: Reptiles turtles and chicks carry high rates of salmonella. In children and adults, the bacteria can cause severe cases of diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps and even death. A child can pick up the bacteria from a person who handles the pet, but also from household surfaces the animal may have touched.
  • Bubonic Plague: The plague is carried by wild rodents such as prairie dogs, which have been sold as pets in recent years.
  • Herpes B: Carried by macaque monkeys, and also known as monkey B virus or B virus. In humans, the virus leads to an illness that can cause death. Monkey bites are the primary way humans get herpes B virus. Human herpes B virus infection carries a case fatality rate of approximately 70 percent.
  • Rabies: Carried by wolf-dog hybrids. No USDA-licensed rabies vaccine is approved for wolf-dog hybrids-that is because there is no proof that the canine vaccine is effective in a wolf-dog hybrid. Raccoons and foxes also are reservoirs for rabies and should never be kept as pets.
  • Rat Bite Fever: Transmitted by a bite, kiss or lick from a pet rat. This is a serious illness, often resulting in hospitalization and untreated, can be fatal. (Several years ago, I treated a young girl for rat bite fever. She was hospitalized with fever, joint swelling and pain, and a rash, just after Christmas. Her parents had bought her a blue rat as a Christmas present, but were unaware of the risks associated with this type of pet.)
  • Influenza: Can be transmitted between humans and ferrets.

Exotic pet ownership is on the rise in the U.S., increasing by 75 percent since 1992. There are many Web sites that offer not only North American-based exotic pets, but for a price, buyers can purchase animals worldwide, such as reindeer, llamas, camels, kangaroos, iguanas, parrots, pythons, marsupials or other creatures that are in demand. What this means is, even if you don't have an exotic pet yourself, chances are one of your child's friends may have an exotic pet or buy one at some time.

To help keep your child safe, I recommend you follow safety and preventive measures offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Match the size and temperament of your pet to the age and behavior of your infant or child, and provide close supervision to reduce the possibility of injury.
  • Wash hands immediately after contact with animals, animal products, or their environment.
  • Supervise hand-washing for children younger than 5 years old.
  • Do not allow nontraditional pets to roam or fly freely in the house.
  • Do not allow animals in areas where food or drink are prepared or consumed.
  • Keep animals free of parasites, ticks, and fleas. Maintain current vaccines like rabies.

If you are still thinking about having an exotic pet, talk to your pediatrician first so you understand the particular concerns related to the animal you are considering. Pediatricians at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital can offer advice on proper pet selection and provide information about safe pet ownership and responsibility to minimize risks to you and your children. Your veterinarian is another source of information on what diseases can be transmitted by animals. If your child ever becomes ill, it is important to inform your health care provider of the types of animals your child has been exposed to so unusual diseases and infections can be considered.

- Dr. Dahl

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Thursday, April 21, 2011
“Come on, you can do better!”
by William Stratbucker, MD at 10:28 AM

While in the moment, this might seem like the best thing to yell from the sidelines at your son or daughter as they compete in spring soccer on a cold, damp Saturday morning. Everyone wants their child or team to succeed. I happen to think there are many other more appropriate ways to motivate your child to perform at the best of his or her ability.


My 6-year-old daughter is running track for a second season and her twin brother couldn't decide between soccer and baseball so he will be doing both. I've agreed to coach baseball and was recently trained to be a certified soccer referee.


We've all heard the sideline comments. We've heard the overzealous coach, parent or grandparent barking at one of the kids on the team to "shoot now!" or "run faster!" I'm also guilty at times of a few like "Get that rebound!" Sometimes we need to be loud to overcome the other noise at athletic events when encouraging our children. However, some of us need to make different decisions about what we say, when we say it and how often we yell. I asked my son after a winter basketball game as he walked out of the gym in shorts into 10 degree weather if he heard anything that anybody said when they yelled from the bleachers in the noisy gym. He said, "Nope, not anything."


After that, I changed my approach. I waited until a break in the game and had time to say one thing to him directly that he did great.


I see kids who are overweight or obese almost every day in my pediatric practice. I want them to be out running around and having fun while they are doing it. I want those who do not have a weight problem to be preventing one by participating in organized sports. What I don't want is a child - any child, regardless of body type or skill level - to feel shameful of their performance during a sporting event.


We cannot be innocent bystanders anymore. If you see (or more likely hear) a parent or a coach overstepping their bounds, say something to them. I'm not talking about the mom who is yelling "go, go, go!" as her daughter streaks down the sideline ready to center the soccer ball to an awaiting teammate. I'm talking about the comments like "Get over there and guard that kid!" or "What is wrong with you out there!" This goes for parent-coach interactions and those with the referees.


Kids are motivated appropriately by praise and the joy of playing with teammates. Yes, they also want to win but really, we need to decide if that is their true goal or ours as parents and coaches. I'll have it easier coaching elementary aged students where the competition isn't as fierce as the older kids, but I'll be thinking about this as I work with my rising baseball stars.


My suggestion is that if you hear someone making inappropriate comments that you address it with the team's coach first and expect the coach to interact with the parent if necessary. If it is the coach who is the offender, approach other parents to see if your concerns are valid and ask others to have a conversation with the coach with two of the parents.


What have you heard on the sidelines? What have you done about it? What is your suggestion to others on how to handle the situation?

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Thursday, April 07, 2011
Is Reading Encouraged in Your House?
by William Stratbucker, MD at 08:22 AM

Ensure Reading Success Through a Reading-Friendly Home

Emmy David is a teacher and educational liaison at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and is our guest blogger.

There is so much evidence that teaching children to read is not only important, but critical to their future success.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, children who have not developed basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years. 

Here at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, I work as a teacher/education liaison, where I provide educational assistance to school age patients. In this role, I see firsthand how important reading is, and I know that being able to read at a young age can make a world of difference academically. Not only are children who are able to read earlier more confident readers, their writing becomes better, too. Reading with a parent or other family member also helps children and parents communicate and they form better bonds that can last a lifetime.

One of the best ways to ensure your child's reading success is to create a reading-friendly home. Here are some tips on how to do this:

  • Create an inviting physical space. Include your child in designing this space, and make sure it is quiet and comfortable. Does your child prefer to sit up, lie down or lounge in a chair?  Does he or she prefer soft lighting or being at a table near you?  You can also consider using a rag rug or special blanket that is only used when reading that becomes a portable "reading area."
  • Create a calm "psychological" space, too. Never force your child to read-showing children by example is always the most persuasive, so make reading an important part of your own day. Also, make sure family members know that when your child is reading, he or she should not be bothered.
  • Discover your child's own interests. What does your child want to read? The more interested he or she is in the subject, the more excited your child will be about reading.
  • Keep bringing new books into your home. In addition to finding books at the library or bookstore, why not trade books with friends? When you keep new books coming into your home, you help ensure your child stays interested in reading.
  • Don't be frustrated by repetition. Children sometimes choose to read the same book over and over again for weeks.  Many children feel empowered knowing something ahead of time, like how a conflict in a story will be resolved. 
  • Talk about the parts of the book you love. Pointing out funny parts, great illustrations and explaining the author's intent will get your child talking about what they love and treasure about stories and reading as well.
  • Let your young child tell you stories. Young children can begin to develop a love of reading even before they can read. In addition to reading them stories, have your child tell you stories-either ones he or she remembers or makes up.
  • Let siblings, grandparents and babysitters read to your child, too. Even though story time can be a coveted part of the day for parents, it is good to share the experience from time to time.

How do you encourage your children to read? What do you think are barriers to them reading?

-          Emmy David

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